Writer, publisher, producer, collaborator, creative person extraordinaire. These terms and more describe Fran Taylor, whose latest venture has her setting foot in the silver business. She credits early rising–between 4:30 and 5 a.m.–for her ability to get so much done. “I start my day full of direction, with focused energy in the morning,” she said. Although she admits to wilting by 9:30 at night, Taylor calls herself a “world-class napper” in the afternoons.
“I’m seriously a multitasker,” she said. “I love staying busy.” She has developed, authored and/or edited six books, including Keeneland Then/Keeneland Now, Blue Grass Airport: An American Aviation Story and Ellen: The Little Girl Who Found Her Voice. Through her company West High Publishing, her next book project has a working title of The Jockey Diet and should be available by Derby time next year.
With business partner Anne Nash, Taylor is also a principal of My Giving Advisor, a consulting firm that specializes in helping nonprofit organizations develop more sustainable fundraising practices.
This year she launched Lexington Silver with business partner Guy Hurley, a metal manufacturer from Rhode Island, to produce pewter and silver beakers based on the designs of Asa Blanchard, a silversmith in Lexington in the early 1800s. “We went through 20 prototypes before it looked close enough to Asa’s original,” Taylor said. “There has been some serious research and work on the development side.”
Born in Mayfield, Kentucky, Taylor’s family moved to Westport, Connecticut, when she was five. “Like most little girls, I was totally in love with horses and absolutely begged my parents to buy one,” she said. “With twin siblings already enrolled in private college and both my brother and I in braces, they couldn’t swing it but they did allow me to take riding lessons every Saturday once I turned eight.”
Taylor followed in her father and siblings’ footsteps by choosing to attend college at Transylvania University. “I started out as an English major and thought it was too hard,” she said. Thinking that writing was too much work, she switched to a psychology major and got a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1975. Later, she would come back to her appreciation of the craftsmanship of writing and never leave it again.
After graduating from Transy, Taylor lived in Atlanta for a few years, working in the clothing business, in restaurants, for a research group, even as a sales rep for a group of commercial artists, “bouncing around trying to figure out what I would do for the rest of my life.”
In 1980, she moved back to Lexington and enrolled at UK. As a graduate assistant she worked at University Press of Kentucky, doing some paste-up work, putting books together and helping them with their catalogs and mailing lists. There was a hiring freeze at the university, so she looked for a job elsewhere. It turned out to be an ad agency called MER and Associates. Taylor was hired to do paste-up in the art department, but when she was asked one day for some ideas about how to market Vine Center, her three single-spaced pages of ideas took her out of graphics and into account management. Taylor was at MER and its later iteration as Meridian Communications for 14 years. Then she worked for Keeneland from 1996 to 2011, as executive director of the Keeneland Foundation and market development administrator of Keeneland Association. She even found time to take riding lessons again.
“While I was at Keeneland, we studied the feasibility of hosting a Breeders’ Cup. It was a long-range plan and it’s thrilling to see it finally come to fruition,” she said. “It is so perfectly logical to have the Breeders’ Cup finally be located in the absolute epicenter of Thoroughbred breeding. Keeneland will be a wonderful venue and Lexington the best host community ever.”
In 2009, she and her husband, architect Tom Cheek, bought a farm in Sadieville and acquired three horses with the purchase. “We now have five equine friends,” she said, “and while only two are rideable, I get as much joy out of taking care of the others as I do riding. They each have such distinct personalities and enjoy being part of a herd. We feel incredibly lucky to have them and to have the space on the farm to give them a wonderful life.”
One of Taylor’s biggest honors tied together her love of horses and writing, and knowledge of live-event production. “I was tapped by Dennis Alves, the creative director of the Boston Pops, to write and executive produce ‘The Horse,’” she said. The narrative and multi-media production debuted in Boston and was performed in October 2011 in Lexington, when the UK Symphony Orchestra joined the Boston Pops at Rupp Arena in honor of Keeneland’s 75th anniversary.
Back when Taylor was a student at Transy, she was introduced to the history of Asa Blanchard and the important role he played in early silver production. She got to know Mrs. Eleanor O’Rear through her son, Ed. “At that time she owned the Matthew Jouett portrait of Asa Blanchard and had it hanging in her lovely home in Versailles,” Taylor said. “If memory serves, the house was named Stony Lonesome and was built around 1780. I do remember that it was filled with incredible Kentucky antiques. Of all the wonderful things she showed me that particular day, I got the sense that she was quite pleased with the fact that she owned Asa’s portrait and why that was the case.”
Twenty-five years later, Taylor saw a photo of an Asa Blanchard barrel beaker in an antiques magazine. She showed it to her friend Guy Hurley, who was visiting Lexington on business. “He thought it was interesting, but was not intrigued enough to think about reproducing it,” Taylor said.
But then, during the Christmas season of 2014, Taylor sent the image to Hurley again and said, “Remember this?” He called her right away and said, “Let’s do it.” The two formed a partnership and set about getting trademarks and domain names for the Asa Blanchard Collection and the company name of Lexington Silver. “Our goal was to reintroduce Asa Blanchard and his designs first to Kentucky, then to the world,” Taylor said.
The lead-free pewter and sterling silver beakers are made in New England for the Lexington Silver company. For a list of retailers and more information about the Asa Blanchard Collection, go to lexingtonsilver.com.
Asa Blanchard (1787-1838) was known as the Paul Revere of the South. He moved to Lexington in 1806 from his native Virginia and had a silversmith shop on the corner of Mill and Short streets Downtown. He is one of the most highly collected of the American silversmiths.
Before there were julep cups, metal beakers were used for drinking distilled adult beverages. Beakers in the shape of whiskey or bourbon barrels were called barrel beakers, and they required a skilled master craftsman, such as Asa Blanchard or one of his trained apprentices, who would spin it on a lathe to make a perfect arch shape.
Referred to as “bourbon’s best friend,” the barrel beakers from the Asa Blanchard Collection in 2015 are the perfect size and shape for enjoying a bourbon cocktail, and are inspired by the very design details Lexington’s silversmith used two centuries ago.